Season After Pentecost: The Psalms Passage – Prayer for the Restoration of God’s Favor

LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people; you pardoned all their sin.

You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.

(Psalms 85:1-3)

I can not take any credit for the title of this, beloved reader, because it is what the NRSV has for the heading for this psalm. I can take credit, however, for deciding it is a good one for me to use. Just as we can take no credit for the grace and blessing that God bestows on us, but we can take credit for passing on that grace and blessing to others. And in light of the recent events in our world, I think it would be a fine thing to give grace and blessing to each life in our global community. It seems there has been far too little of that going one. And, it is a fine thing, a very very fine thing, to pray for restoration for a our global community.

Certainly there is every appearance and fact that not everyone in our global community wishes to live in harmony with each other person. The events fo the past two weeks give ample proof of that. I can just imagine what Preacher and Seeker would have to say. And it may not be to farfetched a thing to say they are in mourning over the recent events – not to mention what might happen between the time I write this and you read it.

Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us.” (Verse 4)

God’s favor is something that our world desperately needs. It may not be something that some think others deserve, whatever the reason, rationale, or (dare I say it) bias/prejudice. But I tell you . . . exhort you . . . assure you . . . that God’s favor is for all. The writer of psalms may have thought God’s favor had left the people in light of what was happening. Remember, however, this was written before the coming of Jesus and the assurance through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that God’s love in eternal and unchanging.

“Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?” (Verses 5 -6)

Ah, here is the key beloved reader. And Preacher/Seeker would be the first to point it out that many times . . . too many times . . . the “people” rejoice in God only when things are going well. When things are going . . . not well – think of the recent events in our world – the “people” fear and bemoan the times, the situation, and the other “people” who have caused the “not well-ness.” But that is the whole problem beloved reader; this “them/us” mindset where one group of people are given lesser value and important than others – it is literally killing us! We need to, for our very survival! Extend God’s favor and blessing to everyone! EVERYONE! Yes, EVERYONE!!!! If we allow the hatred that one person’s or one group’s action effect how we relate to each other, we have denied the possibility of God’s favor extending to them, and have set the stage for more violence.

Now, you may think I just mean certain groups or situations, but I am talking about even those who oppress, persecute, and yes, kill others. That does not mean we do not recognize their sin and evil intent. And we must restrain and stop them from allowing their sin and evil to cause more harm. But we also must make sure that our rejection to the sin and evil does not cause us to spread sin and evil that forms and festers in our own hearts! We, those who are suffering in all manner of ways, need God’s restoration too. And let it be that God’s favor heals the wounds in our hearts and the hearts, souls, and lives of those who have been brutally wounded.

“Show us your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us your salvation.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.” (Verses 7 – 8)

I have often asked myself in these last two weeks what I can do in the face of this. What can I do? I am not a person who attends rallies and speaks to the crowds. I do not belong to any group that marches or demonstrates or protests. I once did such things, but not now. And I have found that my efforts to add to what has been written social media forums has not resulted in good outcomes. So here I am, simply writing here on my blog, trying to address the issue of the day by putting forth scripture and commenting on it. And living peaceably with all those around me. Not much when you add it up. Yet . . . . .

Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” (Verse 9)

If I can, through my small efforts, show “fear” for the Lord and encourage “fear” that is love, honor, reverence, and devotion to/for the Lord – then I have done much. And you, beloved reader, can do the same!

Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.” (Verses 10 – 13)

This is a prayer, and a hope, that the psalmist set forth. And it is also a promise that some day will have its fulfillment. We wait for that day, we long for that day; and, most importantly, we work towards that day in whatever ways we can and when ever we can spreading that love that we KNOW is from God. Because in these days human love just is not enough. We need to connect to the love that is from and of God. And that love will restore us! Selah!

The Third Sunday of Easter – Being healed from what truly ails you (The substituted Old Testament Passage)

When Peter saw it [the response to his healing of a crippled man], he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out . . .” (Acts 3:12-19)

There was a time, beloved reader, when Jesus name had the power to heal. In many instances, it still does. But not so many instances that it is used as a replacement for medicine or medical procedures/interventions. My own situation is a case in point – I have several medical/health diagnoses, and prayer has not taken one of them away. But, despite all of the things medically wrong, I am still active in my job, in my home, and lastly but certainly not least, writing this blog.

There was a time, soon after my visit medical diagnosis, that I thought it should be or could be a matter of faith for me to be healed – that is, to prayer with fervent believe and devotion that I could “beat” the diagnosis and be whole. But the Spirit very quickly “cured” me of that notion. And that it was not a matter of faith but a matter of God’s plan that I should know illness and sickness. But it was also a matter of God’s plan that – as verse 20 of this passage says – “that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus”.

I am sure that if one asked Peter, “Why, and how did you know, through Jesus’ name, you could/should offer that man healing?” Peter would have said, “The Spirit spoke to me, that I should and could, and that it would bring about faith in the people.” I cannot tell you, beloved reader, how or when or even if someone could do this. What I can tell you is that healing through God comes for a reason or purpose that we many times do not know. I can also tell you that healing comes in many ways; and what may not seem to be “healing” because it is not the alleviation of symptoms, it actually a renew ability to function in the face of the illness or symptoms. Note too that Peter took the opportunity to preach to the people, not about how they could be illness/symptom free but how they could claim Christ’s “healing” for their sins; and that is even more important.

May you, beloved reader, feel our Lord God’s healing touch in your life – both in body and spirit. Selah!

The Third Sunday of Easter – Knowing God, and knowing how to live (The Epistles Passage)

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”(I John 3:1)

This verse makes me both happy and sad. Sad because of how some Christians are perceived, and how this might reflect on God. And happy because if someone knows God in a deep and intimate way, then Christians will be perceived in a positive way. But it works both ways, beloved reader. Who we are, and who God is – we are connected to God through our belief and God is connected to us through our actions. Woe be to us if our belief and actions do not support the image of a loving and caring God.

Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (Verses 2)

I asked (several times) on Easter Sunday if you had encountered the risen Lord. The hope of the writer of I John was that when God was revealed, it would be a time of renewal and change. And this will come about we will see God clearly. But the book of I John was written some time after Christ’s resurrection, so the natural question is, when are believers likely to see God more clearly than before?

The commentators I consulted reflect the idea that it will be sometime in the future – in heaven most likely. And that is probably the most interpretation for the time that these commentators were reflecting on the passage, and our current situation. But what the writer of I John have meant? That is, what future did the writer foresee for the audience this was written to?

And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (Verses 3)

It is in heaven we will be purified further – beyond what Christ did. But the writer of I John seems to indicate the believer will be do the purifying; so still I ask, for what purpose?

What I suspect, beloved reader, is that writer of I John had in mind that Christ would return in the short term future. There is a good bit of evidence that the early church believed Christ would return in their lifetime, and this was the reason that the believers were exhorted to hold on and “build up treasures in heaven.” That is still good advice. But our task some 2000 years down the road from Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is to live Christian lives in the midst of 2015 (or whatever future year you are reading this).

If anything, our task is more difficult now than it was back when I John was being written. At the time of I John letters from the apostles were being circulated around, and dealt with issues that were foremost in the minds of that audience. Today these same letters seem to hark back to a time long before current technology and seem to speak of concepts and behaviors that are only weakly parallel to ours. This is why it is so important that people seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help in the transposition of then to now. But some things remain the same, whatever the time period.

Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins; no one who sins has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.” (Verses 4-7)

In the weeks and Sundays that follow Easter we have been (and will continue) looking and considering how to life in the light of Jesus’ life and resurrection. May these reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary encourage you to renew your faith and recommit your life to our Lord. Selah!

Holy Week – Wednesday (The Epistle Passage) The Long Road is close to the end

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, . . .” (Hebrews 12:1a)

We are at Wednesday, mid-week of Holy Week. I think back through our journey through Lent and all the scripture passages we have read. We have heard from the voices of the distant past in the Old Testament passages, the voices of lament and praise in the Psalms passages, the lessons of living in the Epistle Passage, and the stories of Jesus in the Gospel passages. As the writer of Hebrews says, so many witnesses and examples to follow.

. . . and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, . . “ (Verses 1b-2a)

The hardest days though are the days to come. Yes, we have heard this story before, journey through this time of year before; and yes, we know what is to come. I am not suggesting that we approach it as if it is “brand new.” We bring with us our past; our past year with its past sins, past mistakes, past fears, and – praise be to God – our past joys. We approach these final days of Lent with all that we bring. And for this reason, it may be a new experience.

. . . who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Verse 2b)

Jesus the Messiah did not die all over again in 2015. But we remember what our Lord did that meant that for all time to come our redemption and salvation has been secured. Jesus did not walk the earth in 2015. But the stories and lessons of his life are told and relearned. This lectionary year the theme is renewal and recommitment. If not before this time, let us renew our faith and recommit ourselves to Jesus Christ and the God that sent him.

Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.” (Verse 3)

During the season of Lent, if not already, is the time to confess our sins and our failings. Maybe, beloved reader, you have already done that – have already made your heart contrite. Jesus our Messiah has scoped our sins and past failings, and will pay the price for them instead of us. Or maybe that is not your faith perspective. It is not for may to say what is a correct approach to this time of the year and this event in Christ’s life. But what I can say, and what I do hope and pray for you, beloved reader, is that have not grown weary or lost heart; and that you will be evermore renewed and refreshed through our Lord God. Selah!

The Fifth Sunday of Lent – A Prayer to God during Lent (The Psalms Passage)

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:1-5)

You may recognize this Psalm passage from earlier in the year. It was part of the Lectionary Cycle for Ash Wednesday. It sounded very familiar to me when I was looking it over and considering what to say. This week’s scriptures do not seem to have a cohesive discernible theme for the week. Some weeks the scripture passages seem to speak to one theme or idea. But what does come through is our need to prepare ourselves, and what preparations have been made for us; the Old Testament passages speak to that. The New Testament passages have a slightly different emphasis; but we will look at that later in the week.

You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.” (Verses 6-8)

It is good to remember that God has made preparation for when the Lord’s people have gone astray and sinned. God desires a relationship with humanity, and does everything in the Divine’s power to maintain that relationship.

“Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” (Verses 9 -12)

But we need to do our part; we need to desire a relationship with God. The strength of our desire to be in relationship to God will be match by God’s relating to us. God’s Spirit creates a hunger in our soul for God; sadly too many people try to sate that hunger with other things. God stands ready to enter our lives, but we must open ourselves. God may create opportunities, direct people to do ministry, and in an infinity number of ways reach out to humanity. But we must reach out to God to.

The prayer that is Psalms 51 is the author of Psalms petition to God for salvation and relationship. May you beloved reader lift up such prayers this Lenten season. Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – Giving thanks for our deliverance from snakes and from the dry places (The Psalm Passage)

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” (Psalm 107:1-3)

We are blessed, beloved reader, that we have been saved and redeemed from things that hurt us and poison us, and from the difficult, dry places in our lives. We journey, day be day, through Lent examining ourselves and our lives. We would be lost without our God.

Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; he sent out his word and healed them . . “ (Verses 17-20)

Here we think about the “snakes” in our lives, and the dry places where we were defenseless when we encountered them. But even in the dry places, we are not alone.
“ . . . and delivered them from destruction.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.” (Verses 21-22)

Lent is also the time and season when we praise and thank our Lord for our deliverance and our return to health. May you take time this season to praise and thank your Lord. Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – The Metaphor of Snakes ( and other metaphors) is raised again (The Gospel Passage)

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:14-21)

Back on Tuesday of this week I said we would look for where snakes as a metaphor might appear again. But I’m guessing you didn’t that I would be here, in the well-known John 3:16 verse, that is preceded by the verse about snakes. Just as the Hebrews in the desert needed to believe in the healing power of the raised up image of the snake, just as we need to believe in Jesus as God’s Son. But we often think about Jesus coming into the world and focus on the believing in Jesus that we forget to pair that action with Jesus being “lifted”, meaning crucified. But that is one of the end focuses of the season of Lent.

The gospel of John is rich in spiritual images, symbolism and metaphors. The snake being lifted up as Jesus was. God sending Jesus into the world. And Jesus as light coming into the world, and the unbelievers as people love darkness rather than light; and wanting to hide their evil deeds in darkness rather than exposing their lives to the light. A caution though – one can put too much emphasis on light versus darkness. It is not an issue of dark colors versus light colors, but seeing clearly versus hiding away so that one is not discovered and one’s deeds are not discovered.

I like metaphors very much; used well they illustrate complex issues and spark our imaginations. But metaphors, no matter how well composed, are not absolutes. We use metaphors to help us understand, but once we understand we need to set aside the metaphor and use what the true and deepest meaning is.

It is my hope and prayer this Lenten season that your faith, beloved reader, will deepen and grow bringing clearer understandings to your Christian and spiritual life. Selah!

The Fourth Sunday of Lent – Tough Lessons from Hebrew’s Desert Experiences

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.” (Number 21:4-9)

I am not sure how this is biologically or medically – actually, it makes no sense for either science. You can’t just look at an image of a poisonous snake and survive. Especially when there are no anti-venom or transfusion, or anything like that. But if you succumb to something evil and poisonous to your spirit, and then recognize your error and sin – then you can be cured! I am not saying that there were no poisonous snakes or they were not as dangerous as the writer of Numbers has told us. I am not doubting there were snakes, nor that Moses put a reminder of them up on a pole, nor that the Hebrews were not saved.

I think this passage from Numbers has something to say to us, and we can glean just as much meaning from the metaphor as from the actual. What we can learn is this – when you are in a desert and your faith is being built up and tested, it is not a good idea to complain and gripe about the lessons you are to learn, and the period of time of the testing. Something worse may come along and “bite”you; then you will really know what suffering is. The only way to survive this experience is to realize what you have done, and confess the sin and error realizing that it is all part and parcel of the testing and learning experience.

The season of Lent is often characterized as a “desert” experience. That is, there are tough lessons to be learned and the resources that you might have are meager. Many people, in the past and in the present, give up something for Lent or take up an extra challenge or task for the Lenten season. This practice had deep roots in Christian history. I have not said much about it because many of the scripture passages used during Lent do not speak directly to this spiritual practice. And it is not always a spiritual practice that melds well with our contemporary life. Indeed, it takes a deliberate decision, best done at the beginning of Lent, to “deny” ourselves something or add something to our daily practices. So, I will not ask you, beloved reader to take on any additional practices. This week we will look at the issue of sin, and together we will glean what lessons there are and how the metaphor of the snakes might be used again. Shalom!

DAY OF THE LORD . . . Terrifying in its coming

See, the day of the LORD is coming–a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger–to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. I will make man scarcer than pure gold, more rare than the gold of Ophir.” (Reference: Isaiah 13:9-12 )

What can I say beloved? That the writer of Isaiah is correct, and when the Lord comes all these things will happen? It will the apocalypse as if it was stage for a movie only the sound effects and special effects will be real as will the blood etc?! Is this how you envision the day of the Lord?

I do not hold to one of the end times over another. There will be tears, and there will be rejoicing. Which one does depends on whether are one of the haughty and ruthless. And if it would calm your fears beloved, I will tell you that this is actually an oracle concerning, and proclamation against Babylon. Yes, that generic, mystical and all-encompassing enemy Babylon. So, you have nothing to worry about . . . unless you are the haughty and ruthless enemy Babylon.

I will pose the question that I “danced around” yesterday – have you lived your life so that no one would call you their enemy – that you are not someone’s “Babylon”? Because if you are, then you should be worried about the “Day of the Lord.” And the cruelness you have committed against others will be brought back to you! But you are not such a person, are you beloved. When the Lord comes you will be part of those rejoicing that the Lord has come to the world and you will be spared what happens to those of “Babylon.”

The historic Anabaptists warned each other not to sin or be sinners, and I am assuming to not be like “Babylon. “Hence hear further the terrible, relentless and awful punishment of God upon sin and sinners, which has ever taken place and will yet take place. Take heed, my dear children, I counsel you, as much as you value your souls, to this special, eternal punishment of sin and sinners” writes Hendrick Alewijns to his children. It is simple and simplistic to say “be good” so as to avoid the wrath and fierce anger of God. But what more can we do?

While today’s scripture passage does not hold out much chance for mercy, we can still hope that on the Day of the Lord there will be mercy for us. And may that hope sustain you beloved. Selah!

CONCERNING DESIRES OF THE FLESH . . . Battling it life long

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
(Reference: Galatians 5:16-21 )

As I read this passage, I was reminded of a very important fact. The writer and his audience have only been living the Christian life for 5 to 10 years at the most. Not a lifetime! It explains for me, at least, why the expectations are so high for living such a perfect life! In addition, they did not believe that it would be a long time until Christ returned; and that soon, very soon, they would be taken up by Christ to live in perfection in heaven. In other words, these are not exhortations written for the long haul. That is not to say we can do and be all of those sinful things that the writer of Galatians wrote about. What it does mean is that if we “slip and fall” we have time to pick ourselves up, confess and repent, and then carry on living as we should.

It is easy to think about avoiding temptation if it is for a short time. But for the rest of our natural lives?! Again, not that we should give into to the desires and temptations of the flesh! But I can’t help but think that the writer of Galatians (yes, it was Paul!) might have come up with more coping strategies and oases of grace for the long haul.

Historic Anabaptist Pilgrim Marpeck wrote something very interesting in 1531. He said, “While the unbeliever is nothing more than flesh and death (Rom. 8:6; John 3), the true believer will not be able to slacken the struggle between Spirit and flesh. His flesh cannot bear the rule of the Spirit until it submits itself to the discipline of the Spirit. Then the struggle between flesh and Spirit begins (Gal. 5:17). Only then are all defects and infirmities revealed and recognized.” [Emphasis mine] Here then is grace! And from a “strict” source at that!

I don’t about you, beloved, but that makes me feel as if I can struggle one. May you struggle on too making Godly choices each day inspired and support by the Spirit. Selah!